Life – Terror. Ecstasy. Fight. Denial. Flight. Failure. PAIN. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Hope. Love. Peace – Death.

The petition of residents of the constituency of North Ayrshire and Arran, debated in Parliament Wednesday 18 August 2021 presented by Patricia Gibson, MP for East Dunbartonshire

Why are we even debating this? Surely this is a no-brainer? – In line with other countries, cut VAT on sun protection products (sun screens) and save lives?

In the US, sunscreen products have been exempt from VAT-style taxes since 2012. In Australia, they are exempt provided ‘they are principally marketed for use as a sunscreen’ and have an SPF rating of 15 or more. The reason for that is that in Australia and America, sunscreen is seen as an essential daily living product.

There are around 2,300 melanoma skin cancer deaths in the UK every year, that’s more than 6 every day (2017-2019). Melanoma skin cancer is the 20th most common cause of cancer death in the UK, accounting for 1% of all cancer deaths (2017-2019).

This petition put before Parliament in 2021 declared that sunscreen should be reclassified as an essential healthcare item and be exempted from VAT due to the vital role it plays in preventing serious health conditions such as skin cancer; sunscreen is currently classified as a cosmetic product in the UK and is therefore subject to 20% VAT, which adds around £1.50 to the cost of each bottle

Cancer Research UK research concluded; being sunburnt once every two years can triple the risk of melanoma skin cancer, and that melanoma skin cancer incidence rates have more than doubled in the UK since the early 1990s; further that 90% of cases of melanoma skin cancer are preventable by being sun safe.

The petitioners requested that the House of Commons urge the Government to remove VAT on sunscreen to make it more affordable and to encourage people to protect themselves from the harmful effects of the sun.

The Governments Response

Observations from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jesse Norman): The Government thanked Patricia Gibson for submitting the petition on behalf of her constituents about exempting sunscreen from VAT.

The Government’s approach to this matter is; to support safety campaigns that ensure that sunscreen is placed within its proper context; as ‘one‘ of the precautions that people can take against the harmful rays of the sun, but one that does not provide 100% protection. Advice from leading cancer charities ‘recommends a range of steps’ people can take for protection, which includes avoiding long periods of exposure, staying in the shade at peak hours, and protecting themselves with a hat and sunglasses.

Government is quick to explain that – ‘expanding the scope of current VAT reliefs would impose significant additional pressure on the public finances, to which VAT makes a significant contribution’. Losing VAT on sunscreen products would cost government coffers too much?

In addition, this request must be viewed in the context of almost £50 billion of requests for relief from VAT received since the EU referendum, and such costs would have to be balanced by increased taxes elsewhere, or reductions in Government spending.

Therefore, although the Government ‘keep all taxes under review’, there are currently no plans to reduce or remove VAT on sunscreen products.

Basically, it is down to you ‘us’ then?

‘The ‘Stealth tax’ VAT was first introduced to the UK in 1973 to replace purchase tax; a 33.3 per cent tax on goods classed as ‘luxury’ which was introduced in 1940 to discourage waste. The standard rate of VAT was cut from 10 to 8 per cent in 1974, when a higher 25 per cent rate (on petrol and some consumer goods) was introduced.

VAT now a vital component of government finances, for example, raised around £130 billion in 2019-20 helps to fund key spending priorities including; health, schools, and defence. Government argues that ‘any’ loss in tax revenue would have to be balanced by a reduction in public spending, increased borrowing or increased taxation elsewhere (income tax). Traditionally, Conservative governments prefer not to increase income taxation. Finally, it is never guaranteed that any reduction in tax on a given item would be passed on by the manufacturers to the end consumer. The suggestion being; government reduces the cost by eliminating VAT and the greedy manufacturers do not lower prices.

Sunscreens and VAT The Financial Facts

“Less than half a percent (0.5%) of revenue generated by the Treasury from value added tax (VAT) comes from sunscreen products £40 million out of £256 billion.

With UK temperatures regularly reaching unprecedented levels in recent years, with regular amber weather warnings in place throughout our UK summers it’s never been more important to stay protected. Government cannot ignore the serious risk skin cancer poses. Yet they still do? Sunscreen products are not cheap, to some families, struggling to put food on the table, literally out of reach.

Many sunscreens differ in price between stores. One product that jumps out, due to its price variation between retailers, is the 200ml bottle of Nivea Sun Babies & Kids Sensitive protect. At the lower end of the spectrum, we have Boots which is selling the factor 50 product for £6-£8. Asda, Morrisons, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Ocado at £6.50 – £9.99. While there may not be much of a price gap there, other retailers are charging considerably more. Literally Nothing if you are an MP, probably claimed for via ‘legitimate’ work related expenses?

Approximately 16,000 people a year are diagnosed with melanoma, “every year it kills 2,300 people across the UK, making it the fifth most common cancer”.

MP for East Dunbartonshire “should be uncontroversial to state that these products must be made as accessible and as affordable as possible. It’s life-threatening, it’s not something to belittle and the UK Government should and could be leading the way on this.

Cancer Treatment Costs

Increasing incidence of and mortality from skin cancer are posing an increasingly larger financial burden on the NHS in England. Information provided by cost-of-illness (CoI) studies are used in policy making and are particularly useful for measuring the potential savings from averting a case of disease – we estimate the cost of skin cancer in England, and model future costs up to 2020. We compare two costing approaches (top-down and bottom-up).

We estimate that costs due to skin cancer were in the range of £106-£112 million in 2008. These figures are very closely related to those provided by the Department of Health (estimated to be £104.0 million in 2007-8 and £105.2 million 2008-9).

The expected cost per case of malignant melanoma was estimated to be £2607 and £2560, using the bottom-up and top-down approaches, respectively. The mean cost per case of non-melanoma skin cancer was £889 and £1226, respectively. We estimate that the cost to the NHS (government) due to skin cancer will amount to over £180 million in 2020. Compared with £40 million to withdraw VAT from sunscreen products?

No brainer, effective prevention of skin cancer might not only reduce a significant burden of disease but it could also save considerable resources to the NHS (Government), UK Tax payers.

Meanwhile, Skcin continues to lobby the government to recategorise sunscreen as an essential household item, exempting it from VAT, in a bid to bring down prices, “we believe that suncream is an essential household item that should be in everyone’s shopping basket, we, as have many MPs, have previously lobbied for the Government to remove the VAT on suncream, the lack of education around the importance of sunscreen may make certain consumers ditch the suncream as a non-essential item when times are economically hard, but suncream is an essential item to help protect from UV radiation.”

Sadly, this is not something that they (Government) are willing to look at presently.

Thanks for Reading


And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Patricia Gibson, Official Report, 21 July 2021; Vol. 699, c. 1100.]


Published by Riff

Husband to my inspirational, (long suffering,) wife Gail, father to two, amazing (adult) children, Aubrey & Perri, teacher, former guitarist. When I started this blog I quickly became granda(r) to my beautiful, first grandson Henderson. Grandparenting, something I was relishing but had began to believe I would not get to experience. I now have three incredible grandsons, Henderson, Fennec and just days ago Nate. I Love people. I love my family, my incredible friends, I have love(d) what I do (my Job), I love Music, Glastonbury Festival, Cars, Everton .... I love many things but, most of all, I fucking love life.

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